Wednesday, 05 February 2014

Released Video Shows Georgia's Former Interior Minister Demanding Corpses

Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (the 05/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On January 29, an anonymous YouTube user uploaded a 4-minute video featuring Georgia's former Minister of Internal Affairs, Vano Merabishvili, ordering his subordinates to bring him two corpses: “I want two men, two dead bodies, bring me two dead bodies. That’s it. Reward will be high.” The video shows the preparation for the special search operation to hunt down the escaped suspects of the 2009 Mukhrovani mutiny.

The battalion stationed in the Mukhrovani military unit near Tbilisi along with some acting and former military officers declared mutiny on May 5, 2009. Among the plotters were the then commander of the ranger battalion Levan Amiridze, the retired army Colonel Koba Otanadze and the former army officer Gia Krialashvili. The resistance lasted only for several hours. Georgia's military and security forces surrounded the rebels and resumed control over the base on the same day. However, the mutiny leaders managed to escape.

The recently released video was likely shot that very day. It starts by featuring senior security and army officials discussing search operation details. Merabishvili appears and commands the then head of the Ministry of Interior's (MIA) special operative department, Erekle Kodua, and high-ranking military officers to bring “two dead bodies.” Merabishvili then demands immediate action and instructs Kodua and Data Akhalaia, the head of the MIA's Constitutional Security Department to give directions and start the search. Later, former President Mikheil Saakashvili and Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili as well as Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava also arrive. Several soldiers were detained but nobody was killed on the day of the operation.

Two weeks later, as a result of another special operation, Amiridze and Otanadze were wounded and hospitalized while Krialashvili was shot dead. In January 2010, Otanadze and Amiridze were found guilty of mutiny and respectively sentenced to 29 and 28 years in prison.

The then ruling United National Movement (UNM) party led by president Saakashvili termed the incident a Russian-backed mutiny intended to overthrow the government. When the UNM lost the 2012 parliamentary elections and Georgian Dream (GD) came into power, Otanadze and Amiridze were released, as the parliament of Georgia granted them the status of “political prisoners.”

Commenting the video, Merabishvili, who is now in pre-trial detention, said that he never gave the order to kill someone. Instead, by “two dead bodies,” he meant two Russian intelligence agents who, according to the operative information he had at that moment, were murdered by mutiny plotters for conspiracy purposes. Thus he tasked the Special Forces to find and bring him their corpses.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said “the law enforcement agencies will provide a more competent assessment, but I as a citizen can say that it is extremely grave, this is directly a commissioned murder, motivated by self-interest.” Georgia's prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation to “examine the legality of the special operation held in Mukhrovani.” The video “clearly features high officials issuing unlawful orders,” resulting in the death of Krialashvili, the statement of the prosecutor’s office reads. The office already questioned Otanadze, Amiridze and Krialashvili's sister.

GD leaders apparently seek to downplay the political significance of the 2009 Mukhrovani case and the possibility of conflict escalation in case the government failed to take appropriate measures. They argue that the mutiny was an understandable protest by the military against the government, given Georgia's humiliating defeat in the 2008 August war. From this angle, they even question whether the incident should be defined as a mutiny. The UNM overstated the danger of the incident and deliberately linked it to the Kremlin to direct public attention from the street protests taking place in Tbilisi at that time, they assert.

Contradicting this view, UNM leaders claim that GD’s approach is dangerous as it creates a precedent for tolerating and pardoning mutineers and even dubbing them “political prisoners.” They argue that the Mukhrovani incident was an attempted armed revolt that was prevented by the government in a timely fashion. If Merabishvili’s aim was to murder the plotters, then the wounded Amiridze and Otanadze would not have been taken to hospital and survived. They also insist that the video was posted by the authorities in an effort to generate additional charges against Merabishvili whose term of detention is about to expire.

Regardless of the accuracy of these statements, the video has further damaged the UNM’s image and forced it into a defensive position. Before its release, the UNM seemed to be favorably positioned ahead of the local elections given the downward trends in the economy and the government’s failure to make progress on issues relating to South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia.

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